Job Seekers Turn Out For Pee Dee Employment Forum

By: Jamie Rogers, Reporter

August 15, 2009

FLORENCE — Job seekers in the Pee Dee received some extra help in their employment search Saturday during a job forum held by the S.C. Employment Commission.

The crowd gathered outside of Building 300 at Florence-Darlington Technical College before the forum opened was evidently a sign of the times.

Every county in the Pee Dee has employment numbers in the double digits, said Connie Ford director of the Florence Workforce Center. South Carolina had an unemployment rate of 12.1 percent in June, she said.

“We opened our doors a little early because we were ready and it was hot outside,” she said.

Many Pee Dee residents benefited from the event. By noon, 400 people had passed through the job forum and more than 360 job leads had been handed out, Ford said.

Darlington resident Olondo Samuel was one of those who received at least one lead. He’s hoping it will lead to better times for him, Samuel said.

He’s been searching for a job for more than two years now, since his return home after a stint as a student at a four-year college in Columbia, the 24-year-old said.

He’s had one job since 2007, Samuel said. “It didn’t work out,” he said. “It was my mom and transportation. They cut me off.”

Samuel said he gets by with doing sporadic odd jobs.

“I’ve cut lawns, I’ve worked on people’s cars. I’ve done a lot,” he said. He worked for a temporary employment service in Darlington and is looking for similar work.

S.C. Employment Commissioner Becky Richardson said employment commission officials wanted to have a job forum in the Pee Dee to offer job seekers a more helpful, personal experience.

“During the week, you have not only people seeking jobs going into our offices, but you have people going to claim their employment benefits and extended benefits,” she said. “Our offices are just slammed. This way, we can do just looking at jobs. They get individual attention, they get help with their résumé. It’s just a much more individualized service we have here.”

The job forum was intended to connect job seekers with local employers that are hiring and to give the unemployed a chance to receive free advice on careers and education.

This is the first time a job forum has been held in the Pee Dee, Richardson said. The employment commission has hosted similar forums in Spartanburg.

“They were very beneficial. The people were very receptive; they said it helped a lot,” she said.

There have been job fairs held in the Pee Dee, but the concept of a job forum is brand new, Richardson said. “We pulled every job that we could find in the area,” she said.

It couldn’t come at a better time, Ford said. “Marion County has an unemployment rate of 16 percent. Marlboro County has an even higher rate than that,” she said.

Both Ford and Richardson said unemployment affects people of all races, gender, education and skill level.

Florence resident Cecil Cunha thinks he is a testament to that. Cunha said he lost his job about a year ago when the plant that employed him as a safety director closed.

It’s been very difficult finding a job because of the economic climate and because there aren’t many safety director job openings, he said.

Another thing that may be working against him is his age, Cunha said.

“It’s even more difficult for someone in my age group,” the 62-year-old said.

“We like to think that there’s equal opportunity employment. But I think normally when you get to be over a certain age, there may be some discrimination. It’s very subtle. You don’t really realize it’s going on,” he said. “But that’s natural; employers are looking for someone who’s young and trainable. They kind of feel that people who are a little older aren’t trainable, that they’re kind of set in their ways.”

The forum was expected serve more than 600 people on Saturday. Anyone who did not attend can visit their nearest OneStop or, view job listings at http://www.sces.org.